The Interesting Case of Bad Bunny’s Progressivism

By Abby Neiser

Puerto Rican Latin trap artist Bad Bunny has been making waves since he first rose to fame in late 2016.  His eccentric style and outspokenness on social and political issues have made him stand out among other Latin trap and reggaetón artists.  For example, in the summer leading up to the 2020 election, he encouraged Puerto Rican youth to register to vote, emphasizing the importance of voting in being able to see change (Flores, 2020). This post is just one of many examples of how Bad Bunny has used his platform as a popular artist to promote certain causes.

In 2019, amid escalating pressure for Puerto Rican governor Ricard Rosselló to resign, Bad Bunny joined protests and even wrote a song to articulate the goals and views of the movement (Net, 2019).  His involvement and the involvement of other Puerto Rican artists such as Ricky Martin helped to attract coverage from mainstream media in the United States, boosting the power of the protestors (Bossi, 2019).  The movement was ultimately successful, and Rosselló stepped down in July 2019, in part as a result of Bad Bunny and other famous Puerto Ricans using their platforms and influence to draw attention to the cause (Bossi, 2019).  Another way that Bad Bunny has used his influence in the political arena was by lending his music to President Joe Biden during his 2020 presidential campaign to use in ads targeting Puerto Rican communities in Pennsylvania and Florida (Mucha, 2020).  He also came out in support of the Black Lives Matter movement in a new song, “Compositor del Año” in which he raps, “It’s 2020 and racism is worse than COVID / A black man with a gun, that's a criminal, but if he's white, they say that's a hobby” (Roiz, 2020).  In short, Bad Bunny’s career has in many ways been defined by his strong willingness to use his platform to promote the causes he supports.

Though Bad Bunny has dived into several areas of political discourse, he has devoted most of his attention on issues surrounding gender and sexuality.  These are the areas in which he has most extensively used his platform, with a particular focus on violence against women and trans people.  His song “Yo Perreo Sola” portrays the message that women should be allowed to enjoy themselves in public without a man bothering them, with a message at the end of the video even saying, “If she doesn't want to dance with you, respect her. She twerks alone” (Chavez, 2020).  He also called attention to the brutal murder of Alexa Negrón Luciano, a Puerto Rican transgender woman, by wearing a shirt that said, “They killed Alexa, not a man in a skirt” on The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon, a popular American late-night talk show (Chavez, 2020).  Luciano was killed simply for entering the women’s bathroom at a restaurant, and the outspokenness of Bad Bunny and several other influential people called attention to the murder and reignited the discussion about the deadly nature of transphobia (Kaur and Rivera, 2020).  Furthermore, he has been vocal about the increased rates of gender-based violence during the COVID-19 pandemic and called speaking out against it not just a feminist message but a “universal message” (Kim, 2020).

Beyond using his platform to bring attention to important issues, Bad Bunny has dipped his toes into breaking barriers himself.  Similar to Harry Styles, he has garnered both positive and negative attention for flouting gender norms in his fashion choices, such as wearing nail polish, fully pink outfits, and skirts.  Additionally, in the music video for his song “Yo Perreo Sola,” he dresses in drag and sings about a woman wanting to dance alone at the club.  His intention in doing so was to show support for both women and the LGBTQ+ community (Fernandez, 2020).  This a strong statement both in within the reggaeton and rap communities, which both have a reputation for often objectifying women and being reluctant to talk about sexuality (Fernandez, 2020; Viera, 2018).  Furthermore, Bad Bunny’s rejection of gender norms is powerful within the context of Latin American culture, in which “men are often taught from a young age to avoid anything even slightly feminine” (Rosales, 2019).  He stands in stark contrast to what is considered normal and acceptable in most of the contexts in which he operates.

Though many have praised him, his efforts have not been without controversy.  In several instances, he acted or spoke antithetically to what he is supposedly advocating.  For example, in response to speculations about his sexuality after posting a picture of himself wearing nail polish, he responded by bragging about his manhood and ability to get women pregnant (Cepeda, 2018).  Even as he is calling for others to stop objectifying women, some of his own lyrics do just that, such as his song with Cardi B and J Balvin “I Like It,” in which he discusses his preferences for physical features in women and talks explicitly about having sex (Cepeda, 2018).  Freelance pop culture writer Mariana Viera sums this up well, writing, “His embrace of femininity is conditionally accepted by the mainstream—the condition being that he emphatically prove his straightness, and that he do so as often as possible” (Viera, 2019).  Though he is pushing the envelope, he is not completely immune or removed from the systemic problems of the genres to which he belongs.

Another criticism of Bad Bunny’s deviation from gender norms is how he keeps the spotlight on himself, limiting the amount of change he can really make.  This, in many ways, falls in line with the concern that he will only push the boundaries as far as he is able to while still maintaining his hypermasculinity.  Many of the aesthetics that Bad Bunny has utilized were actually pioneered by queer artists, but he has neither credited nor elevated them (Cepeda, 2019).  Mainstream reggaeton is still overwhelmingly dominated by straight men, and even as Bad Bunny has built a worldwide platform bigger than any other Latin artist has ever seen, he has done little to change this.  Culture writer at The Guardian André Wheeler argues in an opinion piece that “[i]f Bunny really wanted to dispel homophobia within reggaeton music, he would use his large platform to feature the queer and trans artists that are frequently silenced and ignored within the genre” (Wheeler, 2020).  Yet he has made no meaningful effort to do so, raising the question of how superficial his advocacy is.

Nonetheless, a diversity of opinions exists around how helpful Bad Bunny’s advocacy on gender and sexuality is, something that will likely continue as society is pushed to become more inclusive.  Ricky Martin, himself gay, has called Bad Bunny a “queer icon” (Wheeler, 2020).  Viera argues that while he may still be working within the constraints of masculinity and Latin American culture, he is pushing boundaries nonetheless, and this has the potential to create space for a new kind of artist to break through (Viera, 2019).  Wheeler likewise describes Bad Bunny’s brand of masculinity “softer” and “experimental” and believes that it is worth being commended (Wheeler, 2020).  There is no denying the importance of responsible allyship, whether for world-famous artists or for any of us in our day-to-day lives.  Bad Bunny should not be exempt from criticism for any unhelpful actions or hypocrisy.  In fact, the sheer size of his platform necessitates that he be held accountable.  Collaborating with queer reggaeton artists, as Wheeler suggests, may be a good start.  Even so, an artist of his stature making an effort to advocate for equal rights is not insignificant, and he deserves recognition for the boundaries that he has pushed.  Hopefully, going forward, Bad Bunny will address the criticisms that he has received and work with activists to create a reggaeton community, broader music community, and society that is more inclusive and open to important dialogues on equality.

Abby Neiser is a senior at the University of Pittsburgh majoring in Political Science and Spanish with a minor in Portuguese and a Certificate in Latin American Studies.  During the summer of 2019, she studied abroad in Cuba as part of the Pitt in Cuba program.  She is also the President of the Luso-Brazilian Student Association at Pitt.  Abby is primarily interested in Latin American politics, international relations, social movements, and the intersection between politics and artistic expression.  Upon graduating, she plans to pursue a career in public service or international relations.


References

Bossi, A. (2019, Dec. 26). How Bad Bunny Influenced Puerto Rico’s 2019 Movement, ‘Ricky Renuncia’. Forbes. https://www.forbes.com/sites/andreabossi/2019/12/26/how-bad-bunny-influe...

Cepeda, E. (2018, Aug. 8). Latin Trap Rapper Bad Bunny Is Redefining Masculinity In A Genre Steeped In Machismo. WBUR. https://www.wbur.org/artery/2018/08/08/latin-trap-bad-bunny-masculinity

Chavez, N. (2020, Mar. 28). Bad Bunny's new music video has a really important message about twerking. CNN. https://www.cnn.com/2020/03/28/entertainment/bad-bunny-yo-perreo-sola-mu...

Fernandez, S. (2020, Apr. 15). Everything You Need to Know About the Making of Bad Bunny's 'Yo Perreo Sola' Video. Billboard. https://www.billboard.com/articles/columns/latin/9359233/bad-bunny-yo-pe...

Flores, G. (2020, Aug. 20). Bad Bunny Returns to Social Media to Encourage Young Voters to Get Registered: 'It's Time For a Real Change'. Billboard. https://www.billboard.com/articles/columns/latin/9437710/bad-bunny-retur...

Kaur, H. and R. Rivera. (2020, Feb. 29). A transgender woman's brutal murder has shocked Puerto Rico and renewed a conversation about transphobia. CNN. https://www.cnn.com/2020/02/29/us/alexa-puerto-rico-transgender-killing/...

Kim, M. (2020, May 14). “Violence Against Women Affects Me”: Bad Bunny Opens Up About Gender and Politics. Them. https://www.them.us/story/bad-bunny-rolling-stone-interview

Mucha, S. (2020, Aug. 28). Bad Bunny and Alejandro Fernández lend songs for Joe Biden ads targeting Latinos in battleground states. CNN. https://www.cnn.com/2020/08/28/politics/bad-bunny-alejandro-fernandez-jo...

Net, N. (2019, July 17). Why Bad Bunny Wants Puerto Rican Youth to Take the Streets. Rolling Stone. https://www.rollingstone.com/music/music-latin/bad-bunny-residente-puert...

Roiz, J. (2020, Aug. 30). Bad Bunny Addresses Racism, Elections & More In Surprise Song 'Compositor Del Año': Listen. Billboard. https://www.billboard.com/articles/columns/latin/9442187/bad-bunny-new-s...

Rosales, V. (2019, Nov. 19). In pink, florals and short shorts, Bad Bunny champions a new masculinity. CNN. https://www.cnn.com/style/article/bad-bunny-fashion-machismo/index.html

Viera, M. (2018, Oct. 3). Bad Bunny's Embrace of Femininity Comes with a Caveat. Vice. https://www.vice.com/en_us/article/vbky9x/bad-bunnys-embrace-of-feminini...

Wheeler, A. (2020, May 19). Bad Bunny: does a straight man deserve to be called a 'queer icon'? The Guardian. https://www.theguardian.com/music/2020/may/19/bad-bunny-queer-icon-rappe...

 

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